SYDNEY (REUTERS) - The Western Force or Melbourne Rebels will be axed from Super Rugby for next season after the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) announced on Monday that the two-time former champions ACT Brumbies had been removed from the process.
The decision over which team will be culled would be announced over the next three days, ARU chairman Cameron Clyne told a news conference in Sydney. The New South Wales Waratahs and Queensland Reds represent the heartland states of Australian rugby union and their continued participation was never in doubt.
"The Board made the decision to eliminate the Brumbies from the process and identified that consultation is required with both the Western Force and Melbourne Rebels to further understand their financial position," he said.
"We don't anticipate this final consultation period being a drawn-out process and expect to be able to deliver an outcome in the very near future."
Governing body Sanzaar on Sunday said three teams, one from Australia and two from South Africa, would be axed from Super Rugby as the mainly southern hemisphere competition reverts to 15 teams for next season.
The cuts come against the backdrop of falling revenues and fan interest after the expansion to 18 teams in 2016 following the addition of Argentina's Jaguares and Japan's Sunwolves as well as the return of the Kings in South Africa.
Clyne opened the news conference by "clarifying" that it was the ARU not Sanzaar who had decided that one of Australia's five teams should be cut.
"Super Rugby has placed an increasingly heavy burden on the ARU business in recent years and the acceleration of revenue declines in our Super Rugby businesses has placed the game under extreme financial pressure," he said.
"The additional funding provided by the ARU to offset Super Rugby losses has severely limited our capacity to invest further in our grassroots and high performance areas such as player and coach development."
While the Brumbies, Super Rugby champions in 2001 and 2004, welcomed the decision to remove them from the elimination process, the path ahead for the ARU is far from smooth.
They must either cut the privately-owned Rebels or abandon the 12-year-old project to develop the game in Western Australia by culling the Force.
Force chief Mark Sinderberry told a news conference in Perth he thought the ARU's time-frame was "unrealistic" and hoped the criteria for the decision would not be purely financial.
"What the ARU have got to do is make the decision for the right reasons, and that's a combination of financial and what we're doing in the community," he said. "We will always believe that rugby is national and it's got to be represented that way."
The Rebels said in a statement it was "business as usual" at the club, even if they were "disappointed by the prolonged decision-making process".
"The club is increasingly frustrated by the impact this process has had on Rebels players, staff, members, fans and partners and the club wishes the management of the issue had been better handled by Sanzaar or the ARU."
South African Rugby have begun "internal consultations" over which teams they will cut, although the Port Elizabeth-based Kings and Bloemfontein side the Cheetahs are most vulnerable.